Grocery Diaries

The Traveling Couple That Lives in an RV Full-Time and Spends $150 per Week on Food

published Jan 15, 2020
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Credit: Images: Shutterstock; Design: The Kitchn

Name: Amanda
Location:  Bay Area, California (for now). My husband Trevor and I are full-time travelers living in a renovated RV.
Age: 27, 30
Number of people in household: 2
Occupation: I work remotely as a research associate for a hospital and my husband is a travel physical therapist assistant.
Household income: After taxes, total monthly income is $7,500.
Weekly grocery budget: $100-$150
Ingredients to use this week: Chicken sausages, sweet potato, spinach, and queso fresco
Grocery store of choice: Trader Joe’s, Winco, Safeway

Day 1: Sunday

Breakfast: Sundays are our only day off together. We travel full-time in our RV and live in each location for three months at a time. We use Sunday as our day to explore the area. When we wake up, Trevor brews a pot of coffee and pours us each a cup with a little milk and a little sugar. I have a second cup of coffee while getting ready. We each grab a banana before heading out for a hike. 

Lunch: On our way home from hiking, we stop at a seaside pub for a beer. We’re both a little hungry, so we share a bowl of clam chowder ($25). Once we’re back in town, we stop at Safeway. I prefer to get our produce and staple items from Safeway and supplement with small Trader Joe’s runs throughout the week. We’re already hungry again and don’t feel like cooking tonight. After wandering around the grocery store, we add a frozen pizza to our cart.

Credit: Shutterstock

Dinner: We cook the frozen pizza in our toaster oven (it barely fit!). Not having a real oven is one of the many adjustments we’ve had to make since moving into the RV. It takes a while, but the toaster oven cooks the pizza perfectly. We have a couple of bar stools at the counter, but tonight — and more often than not — we eat on the couch. We finish the whole pizza while watching Disney+. 

Credit: Courtesy of Amanda

Day 2: Monday

Breakfast: I wake up, feed the cats, and start a pot of coffee. We sip our coffee in bed before getting up and starting the day. Today is Trevor’s second weekend day, so he stays in bed a bit longer. Around 8., I grab a second cup of coffee and move to my desk to begin working. A few hours later, I’m feeling hungry so I make us scrambled eggs. I also boil a pot of hard-boiled eggs to eat over the next few days. 

Lunch: A major adjustment of working from home has been the all-day availability of food in the house. I’ve tried to be disciplined about planning my lunches in advance and sticking to them (and not reaching for the mac and cheese in the pantry). I usually make a salad using whatever leftovers are in the house. Today, I make a salad with spinach, a hard-boiled egg, tomato, red onion, avocado, and queso fresco. I make a vinaigrette with olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, a clove of garlic, and salt and pepper. I put the leftover dressing in a jar in the fridge.

Credit: Courtesy of Amanda

Grocery run: I realize I forgot to grab a loaf of bread from Safeway yesterday, so I walk over to Trader Joe’s (a perk of living five blocks away) while Trevor starts dinner. In addition to a loaf of focaccia, I grab a few other things that I forgot to get at Safeway.

Credit: Shutterstock

Dinner: Tonight we’re making lemon chicken thighs. Chicken thighs are one of our favorite budget-friendly proteins and they’re a lot harder to mess up than chicken breasts. Trevor marinates the chicken in lemon, garlic, dried oregano, salt, and pepper for about 15 minutes and sautés the broccoli with garlic and olive oil. He’s finishing pan-frying the chicken as I get back from the store. After dinner, Trevor packs the leftover broccoli, bread, and chicken for his lunch. There’s an extra chicken thigh, which I save for my lunch tomorrow.

Credit: Courtesy of Amanda

Day 3: Tuesday

Breakfast: Trevor gets up to feed the cats and start our morning pot of coffee. An hour later, he grabs a banana and leaves for work. I stay in bed for a bit and answer emails while drinking my coffee.

Mid-morning: I have back-to-back video conferences that last until the early afternoon. Before they start, I have a banana with peanut butter and make an espresso. I’m a big coffee drinker, so for me, bringing along both our coffee pot and our espresso machine was a necessity (even if they take up precious counter space).

Credit: Courtesy of Amanda

Lunch: It’s about 2:30 by the time I eat lunch. I make the same salad as yesterday and add the leftover chicken from last night. The chicken made it much more filling than yesterday. I eat it at the bar away from my desk to recharge after being in meetings for most of the day. 

Dinner: We’re making veggie tacos for dinner tonight. I sauté zucchini, yellow squash, red onion, bell pepper, and jalapeño. I usually add cumin, chili pepper, and salt and pepper, but both Safeway and TJ’s were out of cumin, so I add part of a taco seasoning packet I got at TJ’s. I drain and rinse the black beans and put them in a pot with water, more taco seasoning, onion, and jalapeño. I cook them for about 20 minutes, then smash them in the pot to make a refried texture. We load the veggies in tortillas and top with avocado, tomato, queso fresco, and hot sauce. Using the leftovers, Trevor makes two quesadillas for lunch tomorrow.

Credit: Courtesy of Amanda

Day 4: Wednesday

Breakfast: We each have our morning cup of coffee and Trevor leaves for work. It’s cold and rainy, so I decide to brew a shot of espresso and make myself a latte instead of having another cup of coffee. A few weeks ago, on an impulse, I bought an overpriced coffee syrup that I now realize is just chocolate syrup in fancy packaging. I add it to my latte and it’s now a mocha.

Credit: Courtesy of Amanda

Lunch: Around 1 p.m., I make myself another salad. I don’t have anything fun or filling to add to it, so I also eat the leftover black beans. I stand in the kitchen and eat my salad while going through our mail. 

Dinner: We’re making another staple in our house: grain bowls. I love the harvest grain mixture from TJ’s. I roast sweet potato, Brussels sprouts, and chicken apple sausage in the toaster oven. The toaster is tiny, so I have to do it in three batches — we’ll eat the first batch now and the second and third will be for packed for lunch. I add a scoop of the harvest grains and the veggie-and-sausage mix to a bowl and top the whole thing with Parmesan.

Dessert: We ate pretty early and both have a sweet tooth by 8. We go to a self-serve frozen yogurt place down the street. Mine is 50% yogurt and 50% cookie dough, Trevor’s is all yogurt with a ton of fudge on top ($13). 

Day 5: Thursday

Breakfast: I work late on Thursdays, so after my first cup of coffee I go for a run. There is a great trail right behind our RV park. On the way home, I stop at TJ’s to grab a few things. By the time I get home and shower, it’s 10. I make myself an espresso and have a few bites of the leftover veggies and sausage straight from the fridge.

Credit: Shutterstock

Lunch: Around noon, I make a salad with the leftover grains and veggies, spinach, avocado, and queso fresco. Since I worked out this morning, I’m extra appreciative of the grains. I eat at my desk, which I hate doing, but am totally guilty of.

Credit: Courtesy of Amanda

Dinner: While I finish up work calls, Trevor starts dinner. He makes a stir-fry with bell pepper, snap peas, mushrooms, broccoli, onion, garlic, soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, ginger, and two packages of Top Ramen noodles (but not the seasoning). He also pan-fries chicken gyoza from TJ’s. I finish work around 7 and we eat together at the counter while talking on the phone with my mom. After dinner, we pack up the leftover stir-fry for lunch.

Credit: Courtesy of Amanda

Day 6: Friday

Breakfast: Our morning ritual starts with the cats waking us up. Their “7 a.m.” breakfast seems to push earlier and earlier. Trevor gets up to feed them and makes a pot of coffee. 

Mid-morning: I’ve been staring at an Excel spreadsheet for hours, so I’m feeling kind of nauseated. I have a banana with peanut butter and go for a quick walk to send some mail. 

Lunch: I heat up the leftover stir-fry and eat it while chatting with the cats. After eating, I make an espresso and get back to work. 

Dinner: It’s raining and we want something comforting. We make creamy pesto pasta with Italian sausage. This is the first thing I ever cooked for Trevor when we started dating. It’s super decadent, but so good after a long week. I make a cream sauce using butter, flour, whole milk, salt, and pepper. Once it’s ready, I add the pesto from TJ’s, cooked Italian sausage, and a ton of grated Parmesan. We open a bottle of wine that Trevor grabbed on his way home ($10). After dinner, he packs a Tupperware for his lunch; there’s still a lot left, so we’ll eat it for dinner tomorrow as well.

Credit: Courtesy of Amanda

Day 7: Saturday

Breakfast: Around 8, we fill our to-go mugs with coffee and head out the door. I drop Trevor off at work so that I can use the car to run some errands. When I get home around 11, I’m hungry and running on coffee fumes. I make TJ’s cauliflower gnocchi — the directions on the package always result in soggy cauliflower lumps, so I just pan-fry them in olive oil until they’re crispy. There’s also some leftover sweet potato and Brussels in the fridge, so I throw them in the pan. I top it all with two fried eggs and pesto and eat while watching re-runs on Netflix.

Credit: Courtesy of Amanda

Afternoon snack: Around 2, I make a smoothie with spinach, half a banana, and frozen berries. It’s not raining for the first day this week, so I drink my smoothie outside while putting up Christmas decorations. 

Dinner: We plan on going into the city tomorrow, so we stay in tonight. We eat leftover pasta, finish the bottle of wine, and watch a movie. I think this pasta is even better on the second day. 

Credit: The Kitchn

1. How did you set your food budget?

A big reason we chose to travel and live in an RV was to achieve financial freedom. We’re working towards paying off student loans and building our savings. We want to have fun and eat well, but also save as much money as possible. Our limited pantry and fridge space requires us to shop frequently and only buy what we need. This helps our budget because it limits impulse buys and makes us think creatively about how to use every ounce of each ingredient. I plan our groceries and meals carefully so that we have the flexibility to go out and enjoy the local bars and restaurants. I love cooking and meal planning, so it’s been a fun challenge for me. 

2. What are the kitchen ingredients you can’t live without?

Non-refrigerated staple ingredients (olive oil, different vinegars, soy sauce, chili sauce, sesame oil, garlic, lemon). Having these ingredients on hand lets me have variety without taking up fridge space with a million different bottles of dressing. I also think it’s cheaper and healthier than store bought dressings/sauces. Also, I always have cheese in the fridge.

3. What’s the budget recipe you always rely on?

Breakfast for dinner! Eggs are my favorite; they’re cheap, filling, and delicious. Anytime I’m trying to stretch our budget, I rely on eggs over meat for protein. 

At Kitchn we believe setting a food budget for you and your family is an essential part in getting your financial life in order. Don’t know where to start? We have a guide for that. Want to share your Grocery Diary with Kitchn? See how here.